Startup Phantom Space wants to go into orbit against the grain

The latest Cantrell focuses on is Phantom Space, one of a sea of ​​new launch startups that seeks to take advantage of the explosion of smaller, more inexpensive satellite designs and build rockets that meet the growing demand to launch these payloads in orbit. But like the Cantrell course par, Phantom is trying to find success by swimming against the current.

One of the hottest trends in rockets today is launch ride-sharing, where customers purchase available space for their shipments on a midsize or large rocket with a specific departure date. It’s often a much cheaper way than a launch to get customers to a space station-with SpaceX’s ride program, it costs $ 1 million to launch a 200-kilo cargo (the Falcon 9 of its rockets can reach 22,800 kg total in short orbit on Earth). The company launched a dedicated ride-sharing mission on Jan. 21, sending a record 143 satellites into orbit. It follows a similar mission in June. In a surprise face in March, Rocket Lab, which has long opposed the idea of ​​building more rockets, revealed Neutron for the proper purpose of making ride-sharing launches and competes with the SpaceX Falcon 9.

Sharing the ride isn’t Phantom’s cup of tea. The company wants to build its space footprint by making several small rockets and launching a hundred a year. “We wanted to be Henry Ford in the void,” Cantrell said. “We have a different perspective on how we can improve it.” Just as Henry Ford didn’t change the car but the way it was made, the Phantom didn’t go out to invent rockets either-they just did it.

How is it? With the launch of SpaceX, the delivery chains for aerospace companies going into orbit were filled with the U.S. Defense Department’s financial system. To remain independent of that system, SpaceX decided to build it all on its own, relying on Musk’s luck and a ton of investment to keep it afloat through years of losses. It’s a long -term gamble that pays off.

But the founders of Phantom decided they didn’t have to follow suit. Even in the last five years, aerospace supply chains have become more fluid and competitive, meaning the Phantom can only buy the specific parts it wants rather than build everything from scratch. It buys 3D printed machines from Ursa Major in Colorado. The flight computer design is licensed from NASA, and it uses a BeagleBone Black board that some vendors sell for about $ 50. Other components, such as batteries and telemetry systems, are purchased through the missile defense supply chain.

Comparing Henry Ford isn’t just a dream – it’s a model for the company. Cofounder Michael D’Angelo says the auto and rocket businesses follow the same growth curves: doubling production brings specific economies of scale that are also accompanied by greater efficiency and fewer costs. production error. Computers and mobile devices follow the same path. And he argues that supply chains are now mature enough to allow for the kind of quick manufacturing that Phantom wants.

Today, the company is pursuing two different rockets. There is a height of 18.7 meters Daytona, which should lift about 450 kilograms in space. It may be on the much larger end of what might be called a small-class rocket, but according to Cantrell, the company’s analysis estimates that it is the most suitable size for useful activity. Next up is Laguna, a 20.5-meter high rocket that can lift payloads up to 1,200 kg. The Phantom makes a Laguna version with an available first-stage booster, like the SpaceX Falcon 9 (which has the same vertical landing process).

Giving an artist a Daytona rocket flying in space.


Phantom hopes to fill a gap in the market. While the rides are cheap, customers have little control over how the mission goes. A boarding mission, like a train, is on a fixed route. If you want your satellite to go in a different orbit or path, you will need to install expensive thrusters that can get there. If not, you will need to design its operation for the new orbit, endure the less favorable orbit, or simply purchase a ticket for a different mission. And it is more likely that your satellite will be able to fit all the other payloads that come with it-these flights are fully reserved.

A small rocket launch can be more expensive, but it gives the customer restraint. If you have a mission with specific requirements-such as replacing a particular satellite in a constellation, launching sensitive equipment, or running an expensive technology demo-you might want one dedicated flight rather than a part of the ride. “There’s definitely interest and demand for small rocket launches,” said Ryan Martineau, a space systems engineer at the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Utah.

Cantrell thinks the Phantom can meet this demand without pouring its budget. He estimates that the company’s approach could offer launch for a third the price of the ride-share model.

First, however, the company has to go into space. Daytona aims to make its first spaceflight in 2023. Classically, according to Cantrell, there is a 50% reliability rate in the first four flights of a new rocket. Phantom’s plans more or less believe that any of its first four flights will reach orbit. It recently signed a lease from the Air Force for a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and is now seeking for permission to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, as well-important initial steps if 100 launched a year is the real goal

Phantom also wants to build satellites and become something of a storefront for customers. Its acquisition of Cantrell’s StratSpace this week would have been a key part of this part of the business. The company is working on constellation prototypes for customers and is part of a group developing a commercially funded $ 1.2 billion science mission (specific details won’t be disclosed for months) and it’s been quiet works on a communications network called this Phantom Cloud, which is actually an optical network that other satellites can use to communicate with each other or the systems above. Cantrell called it “satellite internet for space.”

Frankly, it’s not exactly that the Phantom should beat SpaceX and other big rocket makers – it just needs to hold its own. “As the small market grows, I think you’ll find more and more customers taking advantage of that capability,” Martineau said. “I don’t think it’s likely that one can dominate and precede each other.”

The integration is good, says Cantrell: “We recognize that SpaceX has amazingly developed this multi -functional space transportation system, but we think that’s just one of at least two – perhaps more – of the different systems. of the space ecosystem economy.He hopes it will be the Phantom that pioneers another.

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